Category Archives: IBM

REST + RDF, finally a practical solution?

The W3C has recently approved the creation of the Linked Data Platform (LDP) Working Group. The charter contains its official marching orders. Its co-chair Erik Wilde shared his thoughts on the endeavor.

This is good. Back in 2009, I concluded a series of three blog posts on “REST in practice for IT and Cloud management” with:

I hereby conclude my “REST in practice for IT and Cloud management” series, with the intent to eventually start a “Linked Data in practice for IT and Cloud management” series.

I never wrote that later part, because my work took me away from that pursuit and there wasn’t much point writing down ideas which I hadn’t  put to the test. But if this W3C working group is successful, they will give us just that.

That’s a big “if” though. Religious debates and paralyzing disconnects between theorists and practitioners are all-too-common in tech, but REST and Semantic Web (of which RDF is the foundation) are especially vulnerable. Bringing these two together and trying to tame both sets of daemons at the same time is a daring proposition.

On the other hand, there is already a fair amount of relevant real-life experience (e.g. – read Jeni Tennison on the choice of Linked Data). Plus, Erik is a great pick to lead this effort (I haven’t met his co-chair, IBM’s Arnaud Le Hors). And maybe REST and RDF have reached the mythical point where even the trolls are tired and practicality can prevail. One can always dream.

Here are a few different ways to think about this work:

The “REST doesn’t provide interoperability” perspective

RESTful API authors too often think they can make the economy of a metamodel. Or that a format (like XML or JSON) can be used as a metamodel. Or they punt the problem towards defining a multitude of MIME types. This will never buy you interoperability. Stu explained it before. Most problems I see addressed via RESTful APIs, in the IT/Cloud management realm, are modeling problems first and only secondarily protocol/interaction problems. And their failures are failures of modeling. LDP should bring modeling discipline to REST-land.

The “RDF was too much, too soon” perspective

The RDF stack is mired in complexity. By the time people outside of academia had formed a set of modeling requirements that cried for RDF, the Semantic Web community was already deep in the weeds and had overloaded its basic metamodel with enough classification and inference technology to bury its core value as a simple graph-oriented and web-friendly metamodel. What XSD-fever was to making XML seem overly complex, OWL-fever was to RDF. Tenfold.

Everything that the LDP working group is trying to achieve can be achieved today with existing Semantic Web technologies. Technically speaking, no new work is needed. But only a handful of people understand these technologies enough to know what to use and what to ignore, and as such this application doesn’t have a chance to materialize. Which is why the LDP group is needed. But there’s a reason why its starting point document is called a “profile”. No new technology is needed. Only clarity and agreement.

For the record, I like OWL. It may be the technology that most influenced the way I think about modeling. But the predominance of RDFS and OWL (along with ugly serializations) in Semantic Web discussions kept RDF safely out of sight of those in industry who could have used it. Who knows what would have happened if a graph query language (SPARQL) had been prioritized ahead of inference technology (OWL)?

The Cloud API perspective

The scope of the LDP group is much larger than Cloud APIs, but my interest in it is mostly grounded in Cloud API use cases. And I see no reason why the requirements of Cloud APIs would not be 100% relevant to this effort.

What does this mean for the Cloud API debate? Nothing in the short term, but if this group succeeds, the result will probably be the best technical foundation for large parts of the Cloud management landscape. Which doesn’t mean it will be adopted, of course. The LDP timeline calls for completion in 2014. Who knows what the actual end date will be and what the Cloud API situation will be at that point. AWS APIs might be entrenched de-facto standards, or people may be accustomed to using several APIs (via libraries that abstract them away). Or maybe the industry will be clamoring for reunification and LDP will arrive just on time to underpin it. Though the track record is not good for such “reunifications”.

The “ghost of WS-*” perspective

Look at the 16 “technical issues” in the LCD working group charter. I can map each one to the relevant WS-* specification. E.g. see this as it relates to #8. As I’ve argued many times on this blog, the problems that WSMF/WSDM/WS-Mgmt/WS-RA and friends addressed didn’t go away with the demise of these specifications. Here is yet another attempt to tackle them.

The standards politics perspective

Another “fun” part of WS-*, beyond the joy of wrangling with XSD and dealing with multiple versions of foundational specifications, was the politics. Which mostly articulated around IBM and Microsoft. Well, guess what the primary competition to LDP is? OData, from Microsoft. I don’t know what the dynamics will be this time around, Microsoft and IBM alone don’t command nearly as much influence over the Cloud infrastructure landscape as they did over the XML middleware standardization effort.

And that’s just the corporate politics. The politics between standards organizations (and those who make their living in them) can be just as hairy; you can expect that DMTF will fight W3C, and any other organization which steps up, for control of the “Cloud management” stack. Not to mention the usual coo-petition between de facto and de jure organizations.

The “I told you so” perspective

When CMDBf started, I lobbied hard to base it on RDF. I explained that you could use it as just a graph-based metamodel, that you could  ignore the ontology and inference part of the stack. Which is pretty much what LDP is doing today. But I failed to convince the group, so we created our own metamodel (at least we explicitly defined one) and our own graph query language and that became CMDBf v1. Of course it was also SOAP-based.

KISS and markup

In closing, I’ll just make a plea for practicality to drive this effort. It’s OK to break REST orthodoxy. And not everything needs to be in RDF either. An overarching graph model is needed, but the detailed description of the nodes can very well remain in JSON, XML, or whatever format does the job for that node type.

All the best to LDP.


Filed under API, Cloud Computing, CMDB Federation, CMDBf, DMTF, Everything, Graph query, IBM, Linked Data, Microsoft, Modeling, Protocols, Query, RDF, REST, Semantic tech, SPARQL, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, W3C

Reading IBM’s proposed standard for Cloud Architecture

Did you enjoy the first version of IBM’s Cloud Computing Reference Architecture? Did you even get certified on it? Then rejoice, because there’s a new version. IBM  recently submitted the IBM Cloud Computing Reference Architecture 2.0 to The Open Group.

I’m a bit out of practice reading this kind of IBMese (let’s just say that The Open Group was the right place to submit it) but I would never let my readers down. So, even though these box-within-a-box-within-a-box diagrams (see section 2) give me flashbacks to the days of OGF and WSRF, I soldiered on.

I didn’t understand the goal of the document enough to give you a fair summary, but I can share some thoughts.

It starts by talking a lot about SOA. I initially thought this was to make the point that Glen Daniels articulated very well in this tweet:

Yup, correct SOA patterns (loose coupling, dyn refs, coarse interfaces…) are exactly what you need for cloud apps. You knew this.

But no. Rather than Glen’s astute remark, IBM’s point is one meta-level lower. It’s that “Cloud solutions are SOA solutions”. Which I have a harder time parsing. If you though “service” was overloaded before…

While some of the IBM authors are SOA experts, others apparently come from a Telco background so we get OSS/BSS analogies next.

By that point, I’ve learned that Cloud is like SOA except when it’s like Telco (but there’s probably another reference architecture somewhere that explains that Telco is SOA, so it all adds up).

One thing that chagrined me was that even though this document is very high-level it still manages to go down into implementatin technologies long enough to assert, wrongly, that virtualization is required for Cloud solutions. Another Cloud canard repeated here is the IaaS/PaaS/SaaS segmentation of the Cloud world, to which IBM adds a BPaaS (Business Process as a Service) layer for good measure (for my take on how Cloud relates to SOA, and how I dislike the IaaS/PaaS/SaaS pyramid, see this write-up of the presentation I gave at last year’s Cloud Connect, especially the 3rd picture).

It gets a lot better if you persevere to page 29, where the “Architecture Principles” finally get introduced (if had been asked to edit the paper, I would have only kept the last 6 pages). They are:

  1. Design for Cloud-scale Efficiencies: When realizing cloud characteristics such as elasticity, self-service access, and flexible sourcing, the cloud design is strictly oriented to high cloud scale efficiencies and short time-to-delivery/time-to-change. (“Efficiency Principle”)
  2. Support Lean Service Management: The Common Cloud Management Platform fosters lean and lightweight service management policies, processes, and technologies. (“Lightweightness Principle”)
  3. Identify and Leverage Commonalities: All commonalities are identified and leveraged in cloud service design. (“Economies-of-scale principle”)
  4. Define and Manage generically along the Lifecycle of Cloud Services: Be generic across I/P/S/BPaaS & provide ‘exploitation’ mechanism to support various cloud services using a shared, common management platform (“Genericity”).

Each principle gets a nickname, thanks to which IBM can refer to this list as the ELEG principles (Efficiency, Lightweightness, Economies-of-scale, Genericity). It also spells GLEE, but apparently that’s wasn’t the prefered sequence.

The first principle is hard to disagree with. The second also rings true, including its dings on ITIL (but the irony of IBM exhaulting “Lightweightness” is hard to ignore). The third and fourth principles (by that time I had lost too many brain cells to understand how they differ) really scared me. While I can understand the motivation, they elicited a vision of zombies in blue suits (presumably undead IBM Distinguish Engineers and Fellows) staggering towards me: “frameworks… we want frameworks…”.

There you go. If you want more information (and, more importantly, unbiased information) go read the Reference Architecture yourself. I am not involved in The Open Group, and I have no idea what it plans to do with it (and if it has received other submissions of the same type). Though I wouldn’t be surprised if I see, in 5 years, some panic sales rep asking an internal mailing list “The customer RPF asks for a mapping of our solution to the Open Group Cloud Reference Architecture and apparently IBM has 94 slides about it, what do I do? Has anyone heard about this Reference Architecture? This is urgent.”

Urgent things are long in the making.

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Big picture, BPM, BSM, Business Process, Cloud Computing, Everything, Governance, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, ITIL, Mgmt integration, Utility computing

Can Cloud standards be saved?

Then: Web services standards

One of the most frustrating aspects of how Web services standards shot themselves in the foot via unchecked complexity is that plenty of people were pointing out the problem as it happened. Mark Baker (to whom I noticed Don Box also paid tribute recently) is the poster child. I remember Tom Jordahl tirelessly arguing for keeping it simple in the WSDL working group. Amberpoint’s Fred Carter did it in WSDM (in the post announcing the recent Amberpoint acquisition, I mentioned that “their engineers brought to the [WSDM] group a unique level of experience and practical-mindedness” but I could have added “… which we, the large companies, mostly ignored.”)

The commonality between all these voices is that they didn’t come from the large companies. Instead they came from the “specialists” (independent contractors and representatives from small, specialized companies). Many of the WS-* debates were fought along alliance lines. Depending on the season it could be “IBM vs. Microsoft”, “IBM+Microsoft vs. Oracle”, “IBM+HP vs. Microsoft+Intel”, etc… They’d battle over one another’s proposal but tacitly agreed to brush off proposals from the smaller players. At least if they contained anything radically different from the content of the submission by the large companies. And simplicity is radical.

Now: Cloud standards

I do not reminisce about the WS-* standards wars just for old time sake or the joy of self-flagellation. I also hope that the current (and very important) wave of standards, related to all things Cloud, can do better than the Web services wave did with regards to involving on-the-ground experts.

Even though I still work for a large company, I’d like to see this fixed for Cloud standards. Not because I am a good guy (though I hope I am), but because I now realize that in the long run this lack of perspective even hurts the large companies themselves. We (and that includes IBM and Microsoft, the ringleaders of the WS-* effort) would be better off now if we had paid more attention then.

Here are two reasons why the necessity to involve and include specialists is even more applicable to Cloud standards than Web services.

First, there are many more individuals (or small companies) today with a lot of practical Cloud experience than there were small players with practical Web services experience when the WS-* standardization started (Shlomo Swidler, Mitch Garnaat, Randy Bias, John M. Willis, Sam Johnston, David Kavanagh, Adrian Cole, Edward M. Goldberg, Eric Hammond, Thorsten von Eicken and Guy Rosen come to mind, though this is nowhere near an exhaustive list). Which means there is even more to gain by ensuring that the Cloud standard process is open to them, should they choose to engage in some form.

Second, there is a transparency problem much larger than with Web services standards. For all their flaws, W3C and OASIS, where most of the WS-* work took place, are relatively transparent. Their processes and IP policies are clear and, most importantly, their mailing list archives are open to the public. DMTF, where VMWare, Fujitsu and others have submitted Cloud specifications, is at the other hand of the transparency spectrum. A few examples of what I mean by that:

  • I can tell you that VMWare and Fujitsu submitted specifications to DMTF, because the two companies each issued a press release to announce it. I can’t tell you which others did (and you can’t read their submissions) because these companies didn’t think it worthy of a press release. And DMTF keeps the submission confidential. That’s why I blogged about the vCloud submission and the Fujitsu submission but couldn’t provide equivalent analysis for the others.
  • The mailing lists of DMTF working groups are confidential. Even a DMTF member cannot see the message archive of a group unless he/she is a member of that specific group. The general public cannot see anything at all. And unless I missed it on the site, they cannot even know what DMTF working groups exist. It makes you wonder whether Dick Cheney decided to call his social club of energy company executives a “Task Force” because he was inspired by the secrecy of the DMTF (“Distributed Management Task Force”). Even when the work is finished and the standard published, the DMTF won’t release the mailing list archive, even though these discussions can be a great reference for people who later use the specification.
  • Working documents are also confidential. Working groups can decide to publish some intermediate work, but this needs to be an explicit decision of the group, then approved by its parent group, and in practice it happens rarely (mileage varies depending on the groups).
  • Even when a document is published, the process to provide feedback from the outside seems designed to thwart any attempt. Or at least that’s what it does in practice. Having blogged a fair amount on technical details of two DMTF standards (CMDBf and WS-Management) I often get questions and comments about these specifications from readers. I encourage them to bring their comments to the group and point them to the official feedback page. Not once have I, as a working group participant, seen the comments come out on the other end of the process.

So let’s recap. People outside of DMTF don’t know what work is going on (even if they happen to know that a working group called “Cloud this” or “Cloud that” has been started, the charter documents and therefore the precise scope and list of deliverables are also confidential). Even if they knew, they couldn’t get to see the work. And even if they did, there is no convenient way for them to provide feedback (which would probably arrive too late anyway). And joining the organization would be quite a selfless act because they then have to pay for the privilege of sharing their expertise while not being included in the real deciding circles anyway (unless there are ready to pony up for the top membership levels). That’s because of the unclear and unstable processes as well as the inordinate influence of board members and officers who all are also company representatives (in W3C, the strong staff balances the influence of the sponsors, in OASIS the bylaws limit arbitrariness by the board members).

What we are missing out on

Many in the standards community have heard me rant on this topic before. What pushed me over the edge and motivated me to write this entry was stumbling on a crystal clear illustration of what we are missing out on. I submit to you this post by Adrian Cole and the follow-up (twice)by Thorsten von Eicken. After spending two days at a face to face meeting of the DMTF Cloud incubator (in an undisclosed location) this week, I’ll just say that these posts illustrate a level of practically and a grounding in real-life Cloud usage that was not evident in all the discussions of the incubator. You don’t see Adrian and Thorsten arguing about the meaning of the word “infrastructure”, do you? I’d love to point you to the DMTF meeting minutes so you can judge for yourself, but by now you should understand why I can’t.

So instead of helping in the forum where big vendors submit their specifications, the specialists (some of them at least) go work in OGF, and produce OCCI (here is the mailing list archive). When Thorsten von Eicken blogs about his experience using Cloud APIs, they welcome the feedback and engage him to look at their work. The OCCI work is nice, but my concern is that we are now going to end up with at least two sets of standard specifications (in addition to the multitude of company-controlled specifications, like the ubiquitous EC2 API). One from the big companies and one from the specialists. And if you think that the simplest, clearest and most practical one will automatically win, well I envy your optimism. Up to a point. I don’t know if one specification will crush the other, if we’ll have a “reconciliation” process, if one is going to be used in “private Clouds” and the other in “public Clouds” or if the conflict will just make both mostly irrelevant. What I do know is that this is not what I want to see happen. Rather, the big vendors (whose imprimatur is needed) and the specialists (whose experience is indispensable) should work together to make the standard technically practical and widely adopted. I don’t care where it happens. I don’t know whether now is the right time or too early. I just know that when the time comes it needs to be done right. And I don’t like the way it’s shaping up at the moment. Well-meaning but toothless efforts like don’t make me feel better.

I know this blog post will be read both by my friends in DMTF and by my friends in Clouderati. I just want them to meet. That could be quite a party.

IBM was on to something when it produced this standards participation policy (which I commented on in a cynical-yet-supportive way – and yes I realize the same cynicism can apply to me). But I haven’t heard of any practical effect of this policy change. Has anyone seen any? Isn’t the Cloud standard wave the right time to translate it into action?

Transparency first

I realize that it takes more than transparency to convince specialists to take a look at what a working group is doing and share their thoughts. Even in a fully transparent situation, specialists will eventually give up if they are stonewalled by process lawyers or just ignored and marginalized (many working group participants have little bandwidth and typically take their cues from the big vendors even in the absence of explicit corporate alignment). And this is hard to fix. Processes serve a purpose. While they can be used against the smaller players, they also in many cases protect them. Plus, for every enlightened specialist who gets discouraged, there is a nutcase who gets neutralized by the need to put up a clear proposal and follow a process. I don’t see a good way to prevent large vendors from using the process to pressure smaller ones if that’s what they intend to do. Let’s at least prevent this from happening unintentionally. Maybe some of my colleagues  from large companies will also ask themselves whether it wouldn’t be to their own benefit to actually help qualified specialists to contribute. Some “positive discrimination” might be in order, to lighten the process burden in some way for those with practical expertise, limited resources, and the willingness to offer some could-otherwise-be-billable hours.

In any case, improving transparency is the simplest, fastest and most obvious step that needs to be taken. Not doing it because it won’t solve everything is like not doing CPR on someone on the pretext that it would only restart his heart but not cure his rheumatism.

What’s at risk if we fail to leverage the huge amount of practical Cloud expertise from smaller players in the standards work? Nothing less than an unpractical set of specifications that will fail to realize the promises of Cloud interoperability. And quite possibly even delay them. We’ve seen it before, haven’t we?

Notice how I haven’t mentioned customers? It’s a typical “feel-good” line in every lament about standards to say that “we need more customer involvement”. It’s true, but the lament is old and hasn’t, in my experience, solved anything. And today’s economical climate makes me even more dubious that direct customer involvement is going to keep us on track for this standardization wave (though I’d love to be proven wrong). Opening the door to on-the-ground-working-with-customers experts with a very neutral and pragmatic perspective has a better chance of success in my mind.

As a point of clarification, I am not asking large companies to pick a few small companies out of their partner ecosystem and give them a 10% discount on their alliance membership fee in exchange for showing up in the standards groups and supporting their friendly sponsor. This is a common trick, used to pack a committee, get the votes and create an impression of overwhelming industry support. Nobody should pick who the specialists are. We should do all we can to encourage them to come. It will be pretty clear who they are when they start to ask pointed questions about the work.

Finally, from the archives, a more humorous look at how various standards bodies compare. And the proof that my complaints about DMTF secrecy aren’t new.


Filed under Cloud Computing, CMDBf, DMTF, Everything, HP, IBM, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Oracle, People, Protocols, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, VMware, W3C, Web services, WS-Management

Can I get a price check on this AMI?

I almost titled this entry “Cloud + Tivoli = $” in reference to the previous one (“Cloud + proprietary software = ♥”). In that earlier entry, I described the opportunity for Cloud providers to benefit themselves, their customers and software vendors by drastically reducing the frictions involved in using proprietary software (rather than open source software). The example I used was Windows EC2 instances. But it’s not the best example because there is a very tight relationship between Amazon and Microsoft on this. In many ways, these Windows instances are “hard-coded” in EC2: they have a special credential retrieval mechanism, their price appears in the main EC2 price list, etc. This cannot scale as a generic Amazon-mediated payment service for many software vendors.

Rather than the special case of Windows instances, the more interesting situation to look at is the availability of vendor-provided EC2 instances at a higher price. So I went to look a bit more into this, and I came out… very confused and $20 poorer.

Earlier in the week, I had noticed an announcement of IBM Tivoli on EC2 that explained that “the hourly price for Tivoli on EC2 includes an IBM license”. This seemed like a perfect place for me to start. My first question was “how much does it cost”? The blog entry doesn’t say. It links to a Tivoli on EC2 FAQ on the IBM site, which doesn’t say either (apparently IBM’s target customers work in recession-proof industries and do not “frequently ask” about prices). I then followed the link to the overall IBM and AWS FAQ but it just states that “charges will be announced by Amazon Web Services in the coming months”. Both FAQs explain how to use your traditional IBM license on EC2, but that’s not what I am after. At this point, I feel like a third-world tourist who entered a high-end jewelry store in Paris where no price is displayed. Call me plebeian, but I am more accustomed to Target-like stores with price-check scanners in the aisles…

I hypothesized that the AWS console might show me the price when I select the Tivoli AMIs. But no such luck. Tired of searching, and since I was already in the console, I figured I’d just launch an instance and see the hourly cost in my account usage. Since it comes in three versions (depending on how many targets you want Tivoli to manage), I launched one of each. Additionally, for one of them I launched instances of two different sizes so I can verify that the price difference is equal to the base EC2 price difference between such instance sizes. Here is what I got:


Of course, by the time my account usage page was updated (it took a few hours) I had found the price list which in retrospect wasn’t that hard to find (from Amazon, not IBM).

So maybe I am not the brightest droplet in the cloud, but for 20 bucks I consider that at least I bought the right to make a point: these prices should not be just on some web page. They should be accessible at the time of launch, in the console. And also in the EC2 API, so that the various EC2 tools can retrieve them. Whether it’s just for human display or to use as part of some automation logic, this should be available in an authoritative manner, without the need to scrape a page.

The other thing that bothers me is the need to decide upfront whether I want to launch a Tivoli instance to manage 50 virtual cores, 200 virtual cores or 600 virtual cores. That feels very inelastic for an EC2 deployment. I want to be charged for the actual number of virtual cores I am managing at any point in time. I realize the difficulty in metering this way (the need for Tivoli to report this to AWS, the issue of trust…) but hopefully it will eventually get there.

While I am talking about future improvements, another limitation is that there can currently only be one vendor per AMI. What if someone wants to write an application that runs on top of Oracle Middleware and package this as a paid AMI? It would be nice if Amazon eventually allowed the price of the instance to be split three-ways (Amazon, Oracle, application vendor).

In any case, now you know why this investigation left me poorer. The confused part comes from the fact that I had earlier experimented with Amazon Paid AMIs and it was an entirely different experience. Better in some ways: you get a clear price list upfront such as this.


But not as good in other ways: you have to purchase the paid AMI in a way that it is somewhat disconnected from the launch of the instance. And for some reason you paid for this directly out of your credit card as opposed to it going to your AWS usage account along with all your other charges. I would expect that many customers will use these paid AMIs are part of a larger EC2 deployment and as such it seems awkward to have it billed separately.

But overall, it’s the disconnect between the two that the confuses me. Are there two different types of paid AMIs (three if you include the Windows EC2 instances)? What am I missing?

The next step in my investigation should probably be to create an AMI and set a price on it, so I get the vendor’s view in addition to the consumer’s view. And maybe I can earn my $20 back in the process…


Filed under Amazon, Application Mgmt, Business, Cloud Computing, Everything, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Utility computing

Thoughts on the “Simple Cloud API”

PHP developers with Cloud aspirations rejoice! Zend has announced a PHP toolkit (called the Simple Cloud API project) to abstract and access application-level Cloud services. This is not just YACA (yet another Cloud API), as there are interesting differences between this and all the other Cloud toolkits out there.

First it’s PHP, which was not covered by the existing toolkits. Considering how many web applications are written in PHP (including the one that serves this very blog) this may seem strange, until you realize that most Cloud toolkits out there are focused on provisioning/managing low-level compute resources of the IaaS kind. Something that is far out of PHP’s sweetspot and much more practically handled with Java, Python, Ruby or some .NET language accessible via PowerShell.

Which takes us to the second, and arguably most interesting, characteristic of this toolkit: it is focused on application-level Cloud services (files, documents and queues for now) rather than infrastructure-level. In other word, it’s the first (to my knowledge) PaaS toolkit.

I also notice that Zend has gotten endorsements from IBM, Microsoft, Nirvanix, Rackspace and GoGrid. The first two especially seem to have impressed InfoWorld. Let’s keep in mind that at this point all we are talking about are canned quotes in a press release. Which rank only above politician campaign promises as predictor of behavior. In any case that can’t be the full extent of IBM and Microsoft’s response to the VMWare/Cisco push on IaaS standards. But it may suggest that their response will move the battlefield to include PaaS, which would be a smart move.

Now for a few more acerbic comments:

  • It has “simple” in its name, like SOAP (as Pete Lacey famously lampooned). In the long term this tends to negatively correlate with simplicity, just like the presence of “democratic” in the official name of a country does not bode well for actual democracy.
  • Please, don’t shorten “Simple Cloud API” to SCA which is already claimed in a (potentially) closely related field.
  • Reuven Cohen is technically correct to see it as “a way to create other higher level programmatic API interfaces such as REST or SOAP using an easy, yet portable PHP programming environment”. But pay attention to how many turtles are on this pile: the native provider API, the adapter to the “simple cloud API”, the SOAP or REST remote API and the consuming application’s native API. How much real isolation are you getting when you build your house on such a wobbly foundation

[UPDATE: Comments from someone in the know:  a programmer working on adding Azure support for this Simple Cloud API project.]


Filed under Application Mgmt, Cloud Computing, Everything, IBM, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Middleware, Open source, Portability, Utility computing

Symptoms Autonomic Framework submission to OASIS: CBE meets ITIL?

IBM, Fujitsu and CA have recently proposed a charter for a new OASIS technical committee, called the Symptoms Autonomic Framework (SAF) TC. Including a specification candidate and other submitted documents, listed here.

For context, you need to remember the Common Base Event (CBE) specification that IBM has shopped around for a long time, initially hand in hand with Cisco. As always, the Cover Pages offer the best references on this saga. CBE was submitted to WSDM and came out (in a much-emaciated form) as the WSDM Event Format (WEF) in WSDM 1.1 part 2.

Because so many parts of CBE were left on the floor of the WSDM editing room and because WSDM itself saw little adoption, I have always been expecting IBM to bring CBE back in some form. When I heard of SAF, my instinct was that this was it.

Not so. SAF is meant to sit on top of an event system like CBE. It turns selected events/situations and other data points into symptoms and tells you what to do next. Its focus is on roles, process and knowledge bases. Not on the event format. The operations and payloads defined are not for exchanging events, they are for exchanging “symptoms”, “syndromes”, “prescriptions” and “protocols”.

As the terms show, the specification espouses the medical dialect (even “protocol” is meant to be understand in the medical sense, not as in “HTTP” or “FTP”). While I have been guilty of a similar analogy myself, I also think that if there is one area from which we don’t want to learn in terms of automation, system integration and proper use of IT in general, it’s the medical field. So let’s be careful not to push the analogy too far (section 8.1 of the SAF specification is a fun read, but not necessarily very compelling).

BTW, since when do we use terms strongly associated with one company in the name of standards group (“autonomic”)?

More fundamentally, the main question is what the chances of success of this effort are. Its a huge endeavor (“enabling interoperable diagnosis and treatment of complex systems”) and it tries to structure activities that have been going on for a long time and in many different ways. No-one will adopt this structure for its own sake, so the question is what practical benefits can be derived from this level of standardization. For example, how reliably can incoming events be mapped in practice to symptoms, how efficiently can symptoms be matched to protocols (in typical IBM fashion there seems to be a big  “XPath is my hammer” assumption lurking), etc…

The discussion on the charter is currently open in OASIS if you want to weigh in.


Filed under Automation, Everything, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, ITIL, Mgmt integration, Specs, Standards

Cloud API: what’s cooking between IBM and VMWare?

In the previous entry, I declared that I had a “guess as to why [the DMTF Cloud] incubator was created without a submission”, that I may later reveal. Well here it is: VMWare and IBM are negotiating a joint Cloud API submission to DMTF and need more time before they can submit it.

This is 100% speculation on my part. It’s not even based on rumors or leaks. I made it up. Here are the data points that influenced me. You decide what they’re worth.

  • VMWare has at numerous time announced (comments here and here) that they would submit a vCloud API to DMTF in the first half of 2009.
  • In the transcript of this VMWare webcast we learn that an important part of the vCloud API is its adoption of REST as part of a move towards more abstraction and simplicity (“this is not simply proxy-ing of VIM APIs”).
  • IBM, meanwhile, has been trying to get a SOAP-based IT management framework for a while. Unsuccessfully so far. WSDM was a first failed attempt. The WS-Management/WSDM reconciliation was another one (I was in the same boat on both of these). The WS-RA working group at W3C (where the ashes of WS-RT are smoldering) could be where the third attempt springs from. But IBM is currently very quiet about their plans (compared to all the conference talks, PowerPoint slides and white papers that that heralded the previous two attempts). They obviously haven’t given up, but they are planning the next move. And the emergence of Cloud computing in the meantime is redefining the IT automation landscape in a way that they will make sure to incorporate in their updated standards plans.
  • Then comes the DMTF Cloud incubator of which the co-chairs are from VMWare and IBM (“interim” co-chairs in theory, but we know how these things go). Which seems to imply an agreement around a proposal (this is what the incubator process is explicitly designed for: “allow vendors aligned with a certain proposal to move forward and produce an interoperability specification”). But there is no associated specification submission, which suggest that the agreed-upon proposal is still being negotiated.

VMWare has a lot of momentum in a virtualization-focused view of IT automation (the predominant view right now, though I am not sure it will always be) and IBM sees them as the right partner for their third attempt (HP was the main partner in the first, Microsoft in the second). VMWare knows that they are going against Microsoft and they need IBM’s strength to control the standard. This could justify an alliance.

It seems pretty clear that VMWare has an API specification already (they supposedly even gave it to partners). It is also pretty clear that IBM would not agree to it in a wholesale way. For technical and pride reasons. They did it for OVF because it is a narrow specification, but a more comprehensive Cloud API would touch on a lot of aspects where IBM has set ideas and existing products. Here are some of the aspects that may be in contention.

REST versus WS-* – Yes, that old rathole. Having just moved to REST, the VMWare folks probably don’t feel like turning around. IBM has invested a lot in a WS-* approach over the years. It doesn’t mean that they won’t go with the REST approach, but it would take them some time to get over it. Lots of fellows and distinguished engineers would need to be convinced. There are some very REST-friendly parts in IBM (in Rational, in WebSphere) but Tivoli has seemed a lot less so to me. The worst outcome is if they offer both options. If you see this (or if you see XPath/XQuery expressions embedded inside URLs or HTTP headers), run for the escape hatches.

While REST versus WS-* is an easy one to grab on, I don’t think it’s the most important issue. Both parties are smart enough to realize it’s not that critical (it’s the model, not the protocol, that matters).

CBE/WEF – IBM has been trying to get a standard stamp on its Common Base Event format (CBE) forever. When they did (as WEF, the WSDM Event Format) it was in a simplified form (by yours truly, among others) and part of a standard that wasn’t widely adopted. But it’s still there in Tivoli and you can expect it to resurface in some form in their next proposal.

Software packaging – I am not sure what’s up with SDD, but whether it’s this specification or something else I would expect that IBM would have a lot to say about software packaging and patching. A lot more than VMWare probably cares about. Expect IBM’s fingerprints all over that part.

Security – I have criticized IBM many times for the “security considerations” boilerplate that they stick on every specification. But this in an area in which it actually make sense to have a very focused security analysis, something that IBM could do a lot better than VMWare I suspect.

ITSM / ITIL – In addition to the technical aspect of IT management operations, there are plenty of process and human aspects. Many areas of ITSM are applicable (e.g. I have written about the role of service catalogs, or you can think about the link to CMDBf). IBM has a lot more exposure there than VMWare.

Grid – IBM’s insistence to align Grid computing and IT management is one of the things that weighted WSDM down. Will they repeat this? In a way, Cloud computing *is* that junction of IT management and Grid that they were after with WSRF. But how much of the existing GGF Grid infrastructure are they going to try to accommodate? I don’t think they’ll be too rigid on this, but it’s worth watching.

Seeing how the topics above are handled in the VMWare/IBM proposal (if such a proposal ever materializes) will tell the alert readers a lot about the balance of power between VMWare and IBM.

As a side note, there are very smart people in the EMC CTO office (starting with the CTO himself and my friend Tom Maguire) who came from IBM and are veterans of the WSDM/WSRF/OGSI efforts. These people could play an interesting role in the IBM/VMWare relationship if the corporate arrangement between EMC and VMWare allows it (my guess is it doesn’t). Another interesting side note is to ask what Microsoft would do if indeed VMWare and IBM were dancing together on this. Microsoft is listed in the members of the DMTF Cloud incubator, but I notice a certain detachment in this post from Steve Martin. For now at least.

Did I mention that this is all pure speculation on my part? We’ll see what happens. Hopefully it’s at least entertaining. And even if I am wrong, the questions raised (around the links between previous IT management efforts and the new wave of Cloud standards) are relevant anyway. I am still in “lessons learned” mode on this.

[UPDATED 2009/5/5: Here is a first-hand source for the data point that VMWare plans to submit the vCloud API (rather than second-hand reports from reporters): Winsont Bumpus (VMWare’s Director of Standards Architecture) says that “VMware announced its intention to submit its key elements of the vCloud API to an existing standards organization for the basis of developing an industry standard”.]

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Filed under Automation, Cloud Computing, DMTF, Everything, Grid, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, OVF, SOAP, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization, VMware

Here comes WSTF

A new Web services-related industry body has been announced today: WSTF (Web Services Test Forum). More details about it from Infoworld. My employer (Oracle) seems to be one of the drivers (along with IBM) but I am not personally involved.

A lot of hand-wringing, of course, about its relationship with WS-I. Which is understandable if you consider what WS-I was originally supposed to deliver (profiles, sample applications and testing tools). But not if you consider what it has actually delivered that is relevant (a couple of profiles, some time ago). WSTF could also be compared with the SOAPBuilders Yahoo group, but since that group has seen only two emails messages so far in 2008 (last one dated April 2nd), it seems safe to consider it dead. It would be interesting to know why that is though (it used to be pretty active in the early days) and what lesson WSTF may learn from it. Another effort you may want to compare this to is the Microsoft Web Services Protocol Workshops Process. It’s too early to tell, but they may turn out to be more closely related than meets the eye.

I noticed this innocuous-sounding sentence in the press release (warning, PDF): “As an open community, WSTF has made it easy to introduce new interoperability scenarios and approve work through simple majority governance”. You may wonder why this is important enough to figure in the press release.

I interpret it as a dog whistle call (heard only by those to whom it is intended) for the WS-I board. Microsoft’s Paul Cotton responds to it in his quote for Infoworld: “WS-I provides a proven and open organization and process that best suits our customers’ needs”. He also talks about “the incredible industry-wide momentum and leadership of WS-I”, which is indeed not very credible (especially the momentum part). The WS-I process, associated board politics and resulting inaction is what I was talking about in this entry (“veto rules being commonly invoked, stopping most of the activities that the resort was originally planning to offer”).

Speaking of this “Standardstown” blog entry, I should probably soon update it to include WSTF. What should it be? Maybe a trailer park in which customers bring their own lodging, put them side by side and see how they line up?

The current test scenarios seem to focus on fixing the interoperability mess that is WS-Addressing. I assume more will soon be added to test the different WS-* specifications out there. It will be interesting to see what direction WSTF takes after that. Will the payloads of the test messages be obvious dummy payloads (so that the focus is on testing the implementation of the WS-* protocols)? Or will they start to include real payloads (e.g. real purchase orders from real enterprise applications)? How about this: “dear vendor, I will only buy your wonderfully open, standard and interoperable Web services-based application when it is available as a WSTF endpoint and there are three other real-life products (including one from your main competitor) that successfully interoperate with the exact same SOAP messages I will be using”. This could become an interesting tussle between vendors as well as between vendors and buyers.

Alternatively, of course, WSTF could turn into a test of how much difference there is between a “standard” and a publicly specified and interop-tested interaction scenario…

A quick (and unsuccesful) Technorati search for some blog comments returns the “WSTF Dark Retribution Dinorobots Limited Giftset” which “includes all five Dinorobots in their sinister evil incarnation”. Can’t say you were not warned…

[UPDATED 2008/12/10: Gilbert Pilz, who was involved with WSTF from the start (and also left a comment on this entry, see below), wrote a detailed description of the problem WSTF tries to address and how Gilbert and others have structured WSTF to solve it.]

[UPDATED 2008/12/15: Via InfoQ, another long description of the goals and processes of WSTF, this time from Doug Davis.]

[UPDATES 2009/1/5: Chris Ferris also weighs in, including his view on the relationship with WS-I. Having participated in several of the early WS-I plenary meetings, I have to wonder if Chris had any double-entente in mind when he wrote that WS-I helps “the community understand where the bar is”.]

[UPDATED 2009/2/17: A response from Redmond.]

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Filed under Everything, IBM, Implementation, Microsoft, Oracle, SOAP, Specs, Standards, Testing

WS Resource Access working group starting at W3C

Things went quiet for a while, but the W3C Web Services Resource Access Working Group has finally taken life, as was announced last week. It’s a well-know PR trick to announce bad news on a Friday such that it goes undetected, is it a coincidence that W3C picked a Friday for this announcement?

As you can tell by this last remark, I have no trouble containing my enthusiasm about this new group. Which should not come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog (see this, this, this and this, chronologically).

The most obvious potential pushback against this effort is the questionable architectural need to redo over SOAP what can be done over simple HTTP. Along the lines of Erik Wilde’s “HTTP over SOAP over HTTP” post. But I don’t expect too much noise about this aspect, because even on the blogosphere people eventually get tired of repeating the same arguments. If some really wanted to put up a fight against this, it would have been done when the group was first announced, not now. That resource modeling party is over.

While I understand the “WS-Transfer is just HTTP over SOAP over HTTP” argument, this is not my problem with this group. For one thing, this group is not really about WS-Transfer, it’s about WS-ResourceTransfer (WS-RT) which adds fine-grained resource access on top of WS-Transfer. Which is not something that HTTP gives you out of the box. You may argue that this is not needed (just model your addressable resources in a fine-grained way and use “hypermedia” to navigate between them) but I don’t really buy this. At least not in the context of IT management models, which is where the whole thing started. You may be able to architect an IT management system in such RESTful way, but even if you can it’s too far away from current IT modeling practices to be practical in many scenarios (unfortunately, as it would be a great complement to an RDF-based IT model). On the other hand, I am not convinced that this fine-grained access needs to go beyond “read” (i.e. no need for “fine-grained write”).

The next concern along that “HTTP over SOAP over HTTP” line of thought might then be why build this on top of SOAP rather than on top of HTTP. I don’t really buy this one either. SOAP, through the SOAP processing model (mainly the use of headers, something that WS-RT unfortunately butchers) is better suited than HTTP for such extensions. And enough of them have already been defined that you may want to piggyback on. The main problem with SOAP is the WS-Addressing tumor that grew on it (first I thoughts it was just a wart, but then it metastatized). WS-RT is affected by it, but it’s not intrinsic to WS-RT.

Finally, it would be a little hard for me to reject SOAP-based resources access altogether, having been associated with many such systems: WSMF, WSDM/WSRF, WS-Management and even WS-RT in its pre-submission days (and my pre-Oracle days). Not that I have signed away my rights to change my mind.

So my problem with WS-RAWG is not a fundamental architectural problem. It’s not even a problem with the defects in the current version of WS-RT. They are fixable and the alternative specifications aren’t beauty queens either.

Rather, my concerns are focused on the impact on the interoperability landscape.

When WS-RT started (when I was involved in it), it was as part of a convergence effort between HP, IBM, Intel and Microsoft. With the plan to use this to unify the competing WS-Management and WSDM/WSRF stacks. Sure it was also an opportunity to improve things a bit, but 90% of the value came from the convergence/unification aspect, not technical improvements.

With three of the four companies having given up on this, it isn’t much of a convergence anymore. Rather then paring-down the number of conflicting options that developers have to chose from (a choice that usually results in “I won’t pick either sine there is no consensus, I’ll just do it my own way”), this effort is going to increase it. One more candidate. WS-Management is not going to go away, and it’s pretty likely that in W3C WS-RT will move further away from it.

Not to mention the fact that CMDBf (and its SOAP-based graph-oriented query protocol) has since emerged and is progressing towards standardization. At this point, my (notoriously buggy) crystal ball shows a mix of WS-management and CMDBf taking the prize overall. With WS-Management used to access individual resources and CMDBf used to access any kind of overall system view. Which, as a side note, means that DMTF has really taken this game over (at least in the IT management domain) from W3C and OASIS. Not that W3C really wanted to be part of the game in the first place…


Filed under CMDBf, DMTF, Everything, HP, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Query, REST, SOAP, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, W3C, WS-Management, WS-ResourceTransfer, WS-Transfer

Go Big Blue, go! Show them who’s the true friend of the little guy.

IBM’s well-publicized new policy for technology standards is an interesting development. The first image it conjured for cynical me is that of an aging Heavy Metal singer ranting against the rudeness of rap lyrics.

Like Charles, I don’t see IBM as an angel in this domain and yet I too think this is a commendable move on their part. Who better to stop a burglar than a (presumably) reformed burglar anyway? I hope this effort will succeed and I am glad to see that my colleague Jim Melton was involved in the discussion facilitated by IBM and that Trond supports it too.

My experience in standards (mostly from back in my HP days) only covers a small portion of IBM’s technology standards involvement of course. But in all instances, both IBM and Microsoft were key players (either through their participation or through their glaring refusal to participate). And within that sample (which does not include OOXML) my impression is that IBM did indeed play more cleanly than Microsoft.

They also mostly lost, while Microsoft mostly won. Whether there is a causality here is possible but not proven. IBM seems to have an ability to loose by winning: because they assign so many people to standards they wear out everybody else and at the end, they get the final document to be the way they want it (through the normal process, just by being relentless). But the specification is by then so over-engineered, so IBM-like in its approach and so late that it’s usually a Pyrrhic victory. Everybody else has moved on and IBM has on their hand something that’s a standard on paper but that only players in the IBM ecosystem implement. Pushing IBM’s CBE event format in WSDM, over-complicating aspects of WSRF like WS-ServiceGroup and butchering the use of SOAP headers in WS-ResourceTransfer to play nice with WebSphere are, in my mind, such examples. They can’t blame Microsoft for those.

Also, nobody forced them to tango with the devil in that whole WS-* saga. What they are saying now is similar in many ways to what Oracle was saying (about openness and fairness) throughout this decennia while Microsoft and IBM were privately defining machine to machine interoperability protocols for the enterprise. And they can’t blame standards for the way Microsoft eventually took advantage of them there, because they *chose* to do this outside of standards. I wish I had been a fly on the whole when this conversation took place:

IBM: We’re going to need a neutral DNS name for all these new XML namespaces. It wouldn’t be right to do it under or
Microsoft: You’re right. Hey, I just registered last week with the intent to launch a B2B forum for the detergent industry, but if you want we can use it for our Web services specs.
IBM: Man, that’s perfect. Let me give you twenty bucks to help pay the registration.
Microsoft: No, really, no big deal. It’s on me.
IBM: You’re too cool man.

But here I am, IBM-bashing again while the point of this post is to salute and support their attempt at reform. Bad, bad William.

OK, so now for some (hopefully) constructive remarks and suggestions.

I think commentaries and reports on the news have focused too much on the OOXML/ISO story. Sure it’s probably a big part of the motivation. But how much leverage does IBM really have on ISO? Technology standards is just a portion of what ISO does. And it’s not like ISO has much competition anyway, with its de jure international standing. Organizations like the JCP, DMTF and W3C have a lot more too lose if IBM really gets mad at them.

I think it’s clear that Microsoft is the target, but if ISO reform was the main prize, I don’t think IBM would go at it that way. ISO will only change in response to government pressure. If government influence is a necessary step, isn’t it cheaper and more direct for IBM to hire a couple more lobbyists than to try to rally the blogosphere? I think they really want to impact all standards setting organizations at the same time. If ISO happens to be one of those improved in the process, that’s gravy.

IBM calls its report “standards for standards” (at least that’s the file name). I think (and hope) the double entendre is voluntary. It’s not just a matter a raising the (moral and operational) standards of standards organizations. It should also be an occasion to standardize how they work, to make them more similar to one another.

Follow me for a second here. One of the main problems with many organizations is their opacity. They have boards, task forces, strategic committees, etc. Membership in the organization is stratified, based mostly on how much you are willing to pay. I would guess that most organizations couldn’t make ends meet if all member companies paid the “base membership” fee. They need a dozen companies to pay the “leadership” fee to fund their operations. For these companies to agree to the higher price of participation, they need something in return. They need to have more access than the others. Therefore, some level of access must be denied to the base members (and even more to the non-members, which is why many such organizations make almost no information publicly available).

They are not opaque by accident, they are opaque by design because they need to be in order to be funded. There are two ways to fix this. One is to have fewer organizations, such that the fixed costs of running an organization can be more widely spread. But technology is very specialized and there is value in having organizations that are focused and populated by domain experts. The other way is to drastically reduce the cost of running a standards organization. That’s where standardization of standards organizations comes in. If the development processes, IP policies, bylaws and tools were commonly shared among standards organizations, it would be a lot cheaper to run one.

Today, I can start a new open source project for free on Sourceforge. I can pick one of the clearly-identified open source licenses that have been pre-defined. I can use the usual source control, collaboration and bug reporting tools. Not only is it almost free, my users will know right away how to participate. Why isnt’ it the same for standards organizations? Or only so partially. I know that Kavi is used by many standards organizations. I’ve used their tool both as a DMTF participant and an OASIS participant. And it doesn’t really fit either perfectly because the processes are slightly different. Ballots are conducted differently, attendance rules are different, document visibility rules are different, roles are different, etc.

It sounds superficial, but I am convinced that a more standardized approach to IP policies, organization bylaws and specification development processes would result in big savings that would open the door to much more transparency.

Oh yeah, you’d also have to drop the boondoggle plenary sessions in resorts all over the world. Painful, I know.

Sure there are other costs, such as marketing costs. But fully transparent organizations, by making their products more easily accessible to users, have a much lower need to use traditional marketing to get the word out. In the same way that open source software companies get most of their marketing via their user community. Consistency among standards organizations would also make it a lot easier for small companies to participate since anyone who’s learned the rules once can be effective right away in a new organization.

I want to end with a note of caution directed at IBM. You have responsibilities. I hope you realize that at this point, approximately 20% of all airplane seats are occupied by IBM employees going to or coming back from some standards-related meeting. The airlines are hurting already, you can’t pull out at once. And who will drive all these rental Chevys? Who will eat all the bad sushi in airport food courts and Benihana restaurants?

[UPDATED 2008/10/20: From Tim Bray, another example of IBM loosing by winning in standards: “Unfortunately, that spec [XML 1.1] came with excess baggage, namely changed rules on what constitutes white-space, rammed through by IBM for the convenience of their mainframe customers. In any case, XML 1.1 has been widely ignored”.]


Filed under Conference, Everything, Governance, IBM, ISO, Microsoft, OOXML, Open source, Standards

Last call for SML and SML-IF

The SML working group at W3C has published the “last call” working draft of version 1.1 of the SML and SML-IF (“IF” stands for “interchange format”) specifications. You have until October 3rd to tell them what you think.

With all the Oslo fun, the OMG embrace and the silence from System Center there are more questions than answers about the use of SML at Microsoft. But the Eclipse COSMOS project (IBM and friends) is, as far as I know, valiantly going forward with the store/validator implementation. Which may or may not be the same codebase as what was used for the recent CMDBf interop demo (I am not sure how the SML and CDMBf implementations in COSMOS are articulated).

The COSMOS group also recently published an overview of SML. It doesn’t try to tell you why you’d want to use SML but it’s a good and succint description of what SML is technically (from an XML developer’s perspective).

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Filed under CMDB Federation, CMDBf, Desired State, Everything, IBM, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Modeling, Open source, Oslo, SML, Specs, Standards, Tech, W3C

CMIS, APP, Zen-SOAP and WS-KitchenSink: some data points

The recent release of an early draft of a content management specification (CMIS, for Content Management Interoperability Services) provides an interesting perspective on not just SOAP-versus-REST but also Zen-SOAP versus WS-KitchenSink.

I know little about content management and I have no comment about the specification from that respect. Others have better informed opinions on that aspect.

What is of interest to me, and where I have some experience, is the way the spec-defined operations are bound to underlying protocols. Here is the way the specification is structured: Part I describes the data model and the operations exposed by all the services. Part II comes in two flavors: a REST binding (based on APP, the Atom Publishing Protocol) and a Web services binding (based on SOAP).

This is the first time, to my knowledge, that someone (who presumably isn’t a participant in the SOAP/REST religious war but simply wants to get something done) describes two ways to achieve a real-life task, using either APP or SOAP. I expect that this will attract a lot of attention and provide data in the SOAP versus REST debate.

But this is not what I want to write about. I’ll just point out that the REST binding specification somehow is twice as long as the SOAP binding specification, which I find intriguing but not necessarily meaningful (things are looking good for your bet Sanjiva).

What really caught my attention is how SOAP is used in CMIS. You can hardly tell it’s SOAP. CMIS just defines XML messages to be used as payload for requests and responses. You would be excused for forgetting halfway through your implementation that you’re supposed to wrap those in a SOAP envelope. Headers are a no-show. The specification says it uses SOAP faults but it actually goes out of its way to avoid the existing elements for fault code and fault message and instead invent its own. The only SOAP feature it really uses is MTOM.

Except for the MTOM part, this reminds me of what SOAP was at the beginning of the decade, before any header had been defined (other than those used as illustration in the SOAP specification itself). I want to call it Zen-SOAP, by opposition to the WS-KitchenSink approach in which even simple, synchronous, clear-text, request-response SOAP exchanges somehow get saddled with a half dozen WS-Addressing headers before they’ve even left the gate (did I mention that I don’t like WS-Addressing?).

Another comedian in the WS-KitchenSink theater troupe is the WS-Transfer stack and especially WS-ResourceTransfer (WS-RT). Unless I read too much into this draft of CMIS, its content is devastating in two ways for WS-ResourceTransfer: in one fell swoop it shows that the specification is mostly useless and it destroys the argument that WS-ResourceTransfer needs to be stand-alone as opposed to just a part of WS-Management.

In “who needs XPath fragment-level PUT?”, I tried to make the case that the use of XPath in WS-RT to do fine-grained updates is a case of over-engineering. That there is no real need for it. Still, in that article I try to think of cases where the feature might be justified. I came up with two and I wrote that “one is if the resource actually is a document (as opposed to having its state represented by a document). For example, a wiki page”. But I dismissed it because wiki-land is REST country. I didn’t think of it at the time, but there is an “enterprise” version of wiki, a world in which, presumably, SOAP is well-regarded: Content Management Systems. Surely, if there is a domain that needs a fine-grained SOAP-based document editing protocol it’s the CMS world.

Today’s release of CMIS demolishes this use case with two punches to the guts:

  • They do have a query language, but it is SQL-based, not XPath-based.
  • The query is only used for reads, not for updates. Updates are done through specialized operations (addObjectToFolder, moveObject, updateProperties, createRelationship…).

This goes beyond not using a generic fine-grained update mechanism. It also goes against using any generic GET/SET operation. The blow reaches all the way to WS-Transfer. For all this, CMIS comes out a much simpler specification and it also frees itself from the web of dependencies (on specifications at different stages of standardization) that has plagued specifications that use WS-Transfer and will plague WS-Federation for using WS-RT.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the WS-* architects and Microsoft and IBM get hold of the CMIS specification and of its authors in their companies. I am especially worried about the fate of the IBM CMIS authors. The recent news about Oslo show that the XML people at Microsoft are a lot more willing to put the XML tools back in the box when needed.

In truth, the CMIS authors do appear to need some help from the SOAP experts in their companies, if only to fix the way they use SOAP faults and to help the poor soul who put this comment in the WSDL:

<!– had to use include – .net wsdl.exe code generator doesn’t seem to like imports on the schema –>

But they might be getting more “suggestions” than they bargained for. In the same way that the WS-Federation folks were going on their own merry way until it was “suggested” to them by someone (who probably had an agenda) to use WS-RT. I’ll try to keep an eye on how CMIS evolves.

In the meantime, I find in CMIS data points that reinforce my opinion that WS-Transfer should be absorbed by WS-Management, WS-MeX and WS-Federation should return to defining their own operations and WS-RT should be left to die (or, for a more positive spin, be used as inspiration in the next version of WS-Management).

[UPDATED 2008/10/02: Roy Fielding doesn’t like the so-called-RESTful binding. Sam Ruby cautiously defends it. Links via Billy Cripe.]

[UPDATED 2009/5/1: For some reason this entry is attracting a lot of comment spam, so I am disabling comments. Contact me if you’d like to comment.]


Filed under Everything, IBM, Microsoft, Query, REST, SOAP, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, Tech, WS-Management, WS-ResourceTransfer, WS-Transfer, XPath

CMDBf interop demo

IBM and CA are apparently showing an interoperability demo between their respective CMDBs at itSMF Fusion this week. I am not there to see it, but they describe it (it’s a corporate merger scenario) in this press release. It is presumably based on the version of the specification that was submitted to DMTF.

More information about CMDBf, along with another demonstration, will be available in a couple of months for ManDevCon attendees. Three sessions are on the agenda, all in a row and in the same room (so make sure to get a good seat, i.e. one close to a power plug, from the start):

  • CMDB Federation Overview (Vince Kowalski, BMC and Marv Waschke, CA)
  • CMDB Federation Technical Description (Mark Johnson, IBM and Marv Waschke, CA)
  • CMDB Federation Demonstration (Mark Johnson, IBM and Dave Snelling, Fujitsu)

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Filed under CA, CMDB, CMDB Federation, CMDBf, Conference, DMTF, Everything, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, ITIL, Mgmt integration, Specs, Standards, Trade show

WS-Eventing joins the WS-Thingy working group proposal

The original proposal for a “WS Resource Access Working Group” mentioned that WS-Eventing might later join the party. It’s now done, and the proposed name for this expanded W3C working group is “WS Resource Interaction Working Group”.

It takes me no effort to imagine the discussions that turned “access” into “interaction”. Which means I am not cured yet, after a year of post-standards therapy.

IBM hurried to “clarify” how, in their view, this proposal relates to the existing WS-Notification standard. The logic seems to be: WS-notification is a great general-purpose pub/sub spec, WS-Eventing is a pub/sub spec used in the device management spec, to prevent confusion we will make them overlap completely by making WS-Eventing another general purpose pub/sub spec.

Someone who’s been paying attention asks how this relates to the WSDM/WS-Management convergence. IBM’s answer is a model of understatement: “other activities in the WS community should not delay their work in anticipation of new documents being produced”.

As the sign at New York’s pier 59 might have read in 1912: “visitors expecting to great RMS Titanic passengers should not delay their activities in anticipation of the boat arriving in the harbor”.


Filed under Everything, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, SOAP, Specs, Standards, W3C

Moving towards utility/cloud computing standards?

This Forbes article (via John) channels 3Tera’s Bert Armijo’s call for standardization of utility computing. He calls it “Open Cloud” and it would “allow a company’s IT systems to be shared between different cloud computing services and moved freely between them“. Bert talks a bit more about it on his blog and, while he doesn’t reference the Forbes interview (too modest?), he points to Cloudscape as the vision.

A few early thoughts on all this:

  • No offense to Forbes but I wouldn’t read too much into the article. Being Forbes, they get quotes from a list of well-known people/companies (Google and Amazon spokespeople, Forrester analyst, Nick Carr). But these quotes all address the generic idea of utility computing standards, not the specifics of Bert’s project.
  • Saying that “several small cloud-computing firms including Elastra and Rightscale are already on board with 3Tera’s standards group” is ambiguous. Are they on-board with specific goals and a candidate specification? Or are they on board with the general idea that it might be time to talk about some kind of standard in the general area of utility computing?
  • IEEE and W3C are listed as possible hosts for the effort, but they don’t seem like a very good match for this area. I would have thought of DMTF, OASIS or even OGF first. On the face of it, DMTF might be the best place but I fear that companies like 3Tera, Rightscale and Elastra would be eaten alive by the board member companies there. It would be almost impossible for them to drive their vision to completion, unlike what they can do in an OASIS working group.
  • A new consortium might be an option, but a risky and expensive one. I have sometimes wondered (after seeing sad episodes of well-meaning and capable start-ups being ripped apart by entrenched large vendors in standards groups) why VCs don’t play a more active role in standards. Standards sound like the kind of thing VCs should be helping their companies with. VC firms are pretty used to working together, jointly investing in companies. Creating a new standard consortium might be too hard for 3Tera, but if the VCs behind 3Tera, Elastra and Rightscale got together and looked at the utility computing companies in their portfolios, it might make sense to join forces on some well-scoped standardization effort that may not otherwise be given a chance in existing groups.
  • I hope Bert will look into the history of DCML, a similar effort (it was about data center automation, which utility computing is not that far from once you peel away the glossy pictures) spearheaded by a few best-of-bread companies but ignored by the big boys. It didn’t really take off. If it had, utility computing standards might now be built as an update/extension of that specification. Of course DCML started as a new consortium and ended as an OASIS “member section” (a glorified working group), so this puts a grain of salt on my “create a new consortium and/or OASIS group” suggestion above.
  • The effort can’t afford to be disconnected from other standards in the virtualization and IT management domains. How does the effort relate to OVF? To WS-Management? To existing modeling frameworks? That’s the main draw towards DMTF as a host.
  • What’s the open source side of this effort? As John mentions during the latest Redmonk/Willis IT management podcast (starting around minute 24), there needs to a open source side to this. Actually, John thinks all you need is the open source side. Coté brings up Eucalyptus. BTW, if you want an existing combination of standards and open source, have a look at CDDLM (standard) and SmartFrog (implementation, now with EC2/S3 deployment)
  • There seems to be some solid technical raw material to start from. 3Tera’s ADL, combined with Elastra’s ECML/EDML, presumably captures a fair amount of field expertise already. But when you think of them as a starting point to standardization, the mindset needs to switch from “what does my product need to work” to “what will the market adopt that also helps my product to work”.
  • One big question (at least from my perspective) is that of the line between infrastructure and applications. Call me biased, but I think this effort should focus on the infrastructure layer. And provide hooks to allow application-level automation to drive it.
  • The other question is with regards to the management aspect of the resulting system and the role management plays in whatever standard specification comes out of Bert’s effort.

Bottom line: I applaud Bert’s efforts but I couldn’t sleep well tonight if I didn’t also warn him that “there be dragons”.

And for those who haven’t seen it yet, here is a very good document on the topic (but it is focused on big vendors, not on how smaller companies can play the standards game).

[UPDATED 2008/6/30: A couple hours after posting this, I see that Coté has just published a blog post that elaborates on his view of cloud standards. As an addition to the podcast I mentioned earlier.]

[UPDATED 2008/7/2: If you read this in your feed viewer (rather than directly on and you don’t see the comments, you should go have a look. There are many clarifications and some additional insight from the best authorities on the topic. Thanks a lot to all the commenters.]


Filed under Amazon, Automation, Business, DMTF, Everything, Google, Google App Engine, Grid, HP, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Modeling, OVF, Portability, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization

JSR262 public review ballot

The Public Review Ballot for JSR #262 that took place in the Executive Committee for SE/EE has closed. I am not familiar enough with the JCP process to know exactly what this milestone represents. But the results are interesting in any case.

The vote narrowly passed with 6 yes, 5 no and 1 abstain.

The overiding concern listed by the “no” voters (and several of the “yes” voters) is the fact that JSR262 uses WS-Management (a DMTF standard) which itself makes use of specifications that have been submitted to W3C but are not currently in the process of standardization (WS-Transfer, WS-Eventing, WS-Enumeration). And that it uses an older version of a now-standard specification (WS-Addressing).

SAP makes the most insightful comment: that this is not really a JCP problem but a DMTF problem. Hopefully the DMTF (and Microsoft, since it controls the fate of the specifications in question) will step up to the plate on this. This is likely to happen. Even if the DMTF and Microsoft didn’t care about making the JCP happy (but they do, don’t they?), they will run into similar issues if/when they push WS-Management towards ANSI/ISO standardization.

Next to this “non-standard dependencies” issue, there is only one technical issue mentioned. As you guessed, it’s IBM whining about the lack of a WSDL to feed their tools. This is becoming so repetitive that I may eventually stop making fun of it (but don’t hold your breath, I am not known for being very good at ending long-running jokes). It is pretty ironic to hear IBM claim that without that WSDL you can’t implement the spec on JAX-WS when you know that the wiseman reference implementation by Sun and HP is based on JAX-WS…

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Everything, IBM, Implementation, ISO, IT Systems Mgmt, JMX, Manageability, Microsoft, Specs, Standards, WS-Management, WS-Transfer

WS-ManagementHammer: don’t do it but if you are going to do it anyway then…

With the IBM/Microsoft/Intel/HP WSDM/WS-Management convergence now implicitly (if not yet officially) dead, it will be interesting to see what IBM is going to do with WSRF. WSRF is being used today, rarely explicitly but rather in an embedded fashion. People who use WSDM use it, people who use CDDLM use it, people who use the Globus Toolkit use it, etc. IBM could write off the convergence work (WS-ResourceTransfer, which was published as a draft, and WS-ResourceEnumeration and WS-EventNotification which were never published) and stick to using the existing WSRF specifications when they need the corresponding functionality. That’s what I hope they do.

Alternatively, they could decide to get the forceps out of the drawer. They can create a new, IBM-friendly (e.g. Fujitsu, CA, Cisco…) private consortium to take over the unfinished drafts (if the IBM/Microsoft/Intel/HP legal agreement allows this) or start new ones. Or they could go directly to W3C, OASIS or OGF and push for a new working group to do the work in the open (and since no-one else would really care about this work IBM should have relatively free hands there, the way Microsoft did in DMTF when IBM chose to boycott WS-Management). Why W3C would care and why OASIS or OGF would want to start commitees to obsolete their existing work is a separate question.

While I hope that IBM doesn’t try to push another pile of WS-* resouce management specifications on an industry that already has too many, if they do I hope that at least they’ll do it right. And that means doing away with the approach embedded in WS-ResourceTransfer. Having personally been involved in many iterations on this problem, I hope to have some insight to contribute.

Along the lines of the age-old parental advice “don’t do it but if you are going to do it then use a condom”, here is my advice to anyone thinking of doing another iteration on the WSRF question: don’t do it but if you are going to do it then be specific about what problem you are addressing.

First, let’s separate three scenarios.

Database query

WS-ResourceTransfer should not be seen as a way to query an XML database. Use XQuery for this.


While architecturally it should be possible to build RESTful applications on top of WS-Transfer‘s operations, this is simply not what is happening. WS-Transfer is being used either by CIM people (who get to it via WS-Management) or by big-SOA people (who get is as part of the whole WS-* stack) and neither of them is doing anything remotely RESTful. So just leave that aside and don’t see WS-ResourceTransfer as a way to do “fine-grained REST”. No REST user is loosing sleep over WS-ResourceTransfer being in limbo.

A flexible way to interact with a complex system

This is the use case that you should focus on. You have a system made up of many parts (e.g. a composite application or a server that is made of many components) that you can represent as an XML document. The XML repesentation contains some important information about the system, but it isn’t the system. There are identified resources within the system that have lifecycles, management capabilities and internal parameters. Not everything relevant is captured in the XML model. This is why it is different from an XML database.

In general, I don’t think that XML is the best way to represent complex IT systems. It has plenty of complications that are not relevant to IT management and it doesn’t elegantly support the representation of graphs, often the most natural way to represent such a system (more on this here). CMDBf, with its graph-oriented approach, is a better choice in general. But there are plenty of areas (especially smaller, well-defined, sub-systems) in which XML formats have been defined to represent systems. SCA and SML for example.

In the case where you are dealing with such an XML-described system, then there is value in standard ways to simplify interactions with the system and its parts. But here too, we need to distinguished different patterns rather than trying to handle them all in the same way.

Filtering/sequencing of returned data

Complex IT systems can generate a lot of configuration and/or monitoring data and often you only care for a small subset. For example, an asset record has dozens of elements (lease terms, owner, assigned user…) but you may only care to retrieve the date the lease expires. When you do a GET on the record, you want to qualify it by specifying that only that date needs to be returned. That’s what WS-RP, WS-RT and the WS-Management wsman:TransferFragment header allow. In a variation of this, you want all the data but you don’t want it in one go, you want to pull it piece by piece. That’s what WS-Enumeration gives you. The problem with all these specifications is that they only offer that feature when you are retrieving the resource representation (a WS-Transfer GET or equivalent), not for other operations. But how is this different from invoking an AirlineBooking operation and saying that you only want to be sent the confirmation code, not the full itinerary, equipment type, assigned seat, etc? Bundling this inside WS-RT (or equivalent) is not helpful. A generic SOAP header that can go on any message would be more appropriate (the definition of this header would need to pay special attention to security considerations, especially if the response is signed, because it could be abused to trick the server into sending, and signing, specifically-crafted messages).

Interacting with a sub-element of the system

If you have a handle to a computer system resource and you know that it has one CPU and that this CPU is represented by the /comp:CPU element of the system, why would you need to use some out-of-band discovery mechanism to interact with that CPU? It’s right there, you can see it, you can point to it. Surely there must be a way to address operations to it directly, right? WS-Management tries to do it with its wsman:Selector mechanism, but the selectors are not tied to the model and require, effectively, a separate out-of-band agreement for addressing. There shouldn’t be a need for such an additional agreement once an agreement has already been reached on the model.

What is needed is a way, for systems that have a known XML model, to address message to subpart by using the model itself to support that addressing. Call it SOAPy mashup if you want to feel like you are part of the cool kids. I described such a mechanism a while ago. In effect, it is an improvement on wsman:Selector that an eventual new iteration of WSRF should at least consider.

In some cases, namely when the operation is a WS-Transfer GET, this capability overlaps with the “filtering of returned data” capability. One way to look at it is that you are doing a GET at the level of the overall computer system and filtering the results down to the part that represents the CPU. Another way to look at it is that you are pinpointing the message to a subset of the model (the CPU part) and doing an unmodified GET on it. It doesn’t matter how you choose to think about it. In my proposal, these two ways produce the same message. Like the wave view and particle view of a photon, that in the end, describe the same physical entity with each being the best representation for a set of situations.

The problem with WS-RT and its predecessors is that it doesn’t recognise that this is just the intersection of two orthogonal concerns (filering of output versus addressing of sub-elements) and only handles that intersection.

Interacting with a set of resources as a set

The same kind of expression (typically XPath) that lets you point at a sub-element inside of a system also lets you point at a set of such sub-elements. But even though from an XPath perspective there isn’t much of a different (the first one just happens to return a nodeset that contains only one node), from an architectural perspective it is a very different use case. If you want to support such a use case then you have handle it as such and define all the associated semantics (sequential/parallel execution, fault handling, partial completion, resource-specific permissions…). You can’t just cross your fingers and assume that you get such features “for free” just because XPath can return a nodeset.

I know that this post illustrates a way of giving free advice that virtually ensures that it gets ignored. Similar (if you’ll allow the big stretch) to the way Chirac and Villepin were arguing againt an Iraq invasion in ways that probably reinforced the Bush administration’s determination to do it. When will the world finally learn to appreciate the oh-so-slightly obnoxious undertone that is inherently French (because, let me tell you, we’re not about to loose it)? At least, when my grandchildren ask me “where were you when IBM invented WS-ManagementHammer?” I can point to this post and say “I tried to stop it, I tried”.

[UPDATED 2008/5/15: How timely! Just after publishing this I find, via Coté, what looks like another example of French abrasiveness in the systems management world: the attitude, name and the way Jeff ends with a French-language quote make it quite likely that the “Jacques” person discounting the fact that his company’s SNMP agent is broken is indeed a compatriot. French obnoxiousness aside, and despite my respect for standards, my advice to Jeff is that if a given SNMP agent works with HP, IBM, BMC and CA you will probably save yourself time in the long run by finding a way to support it (even if it is not spec-compliant) rather than getting the vendor to change. There are lots of sites out there that work fine with Firefox and IE but are not compliant with Web standards. Good luck getting them all fixed.]

[UPDATED 2008/7/14: I don’t really plan to turn this post into a ongoing set of updates about “French attitude” but since today is Bastille Day I’ll point to this map of the world as seen from Paris. If I wasn’t on strike right now, I’d explain why the commenter is wrong to assert that “French self-deprecating humour” is rare.]


Filed under Everything, HP, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, SCA, SML, SOAP, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, WS-Management, WS-ResourceTransfer, WS-Transfer, XMLFrag, XPath

System Center “Cross Platform Extension”: too many distractions

I was hoping that by the time MMS was over there would be more clarity about the “Cross Platform Extension” to System Center that Microsoft announced there. But most of the comments I have seen have focused on two non-technical aspects: Microsoft is interested in heterogeneous management and Microsoft makes use of open source. That’s also the focus of Coté’s coverage.

So what? Is it still that exciting, in 2008, to learn that Microsoft recognizes that Linux and OSS are major players in enterprise computing? If Steve Ballmer eventually gets hold of Yahoo, do you think his first priority will be to move all the servers to Windows or to build up its search and advertising audience? It’s been now 10 years since the Halloween documents came out. They can be seen as the start of Microsoft’s realization that Linux/OSS are here for good. It is not surprising to see that one of their main authors is now the driving force behind WS-Management, an effort that illustrates the acceptance of heterogeneity and the need to deal with it (on Microsoft’s terms if possible, of course). The WS-Management effort started years ago and it was a clear sign that Microsoft knew it had to tackle heterogeneous management (despite the reassuring talk that “it’s all about making Windows the most manageable platform” to HP and others). Basically, Microsoft is using WS-Management to support heterogeneity without having to do too much work: by creating an industry standard that everyone writes to and that Microsoft uses internally. Heterogeneous management is intrinsic to DSI if DSI is to be anything more than a demo.

But all of this was known before MMS 2008 to anyone who was paying attention. Instead of all this Microsoft/OSS/heterogeneous talk, I am a lot more interested in the technical aspects of the “Cross Platform Extension”.

OpenPegasus has been around for a long time, as a C++ CIMOM with a bunch of associated providers and CIM-XML interoperability over HTTP with CIM clients. I don’t know where WS-Management support was on the OpenPegasus development timeline, but even without Microsoft getting involved it would have eventually happened. And this should have been sufficient for System Center to access the CIMOM (BTW, does System Center not support CIM-XML when WS-Management is not present and if it does then what is different in practice with WS-Management?).

I can see how Microsoft would bring some extra (and much welcome) development resources for the WS-Management implementation (BTW the guys at Intel already have an open-source C implementation of WS-Management) as well as some extra marketing/visibility/distribution. Nice, but not earth-shattering. Do they bring anything else to OpenPegasus?

And what else is in the “Cross Platform Extension” in addition to an OpenPegasus WS-Management-capable CIMOM? Is there any extra modeling capability beyond CIM? Any Microsoft-specific classes? Any discovery/reconciliation capability? How much actual configuration management versus just monitoring? Security? Health models? Desired state management? Or is it just a WS-Management CIMOM? Any pointer to specific information is welcome.

Of course the underlying question is whether others than Microsoft can manage resources that have an OpenPegasus-based System Center management pack on them. The Open Management Consortium guys have talked about an open management agent. Could, against all expectations, Microsoft be the one delivering it?

In the IT management world, there are the big 4 (HP, BMC, CA and IBM), the little 4 (Zenoss, Hyperic, GroundWorks and openQRM) and the mighty 3 (Oracle, Microsoft and EMC). Sorry John, I am reclaiming the use of the “mighty” term: your “mighty 2” (or 2.5) are really still the “little 2” (or 2.5). At least for now.

The interesting thing is that in that industry configuration there are topics on which the little ones and the mighty ones share common interests. For example, the big 4 have a lot more management packs for all kinds of resources, built up over the years. Some standard-based mechanism that partially resets the stage helps the little ones and the mighty ones better compete against the big 4. Even better if it has an attractive (and extensible) implementation ready in the form of an agent. But let’s be clear that it takes more than a CIMOM to make a management pack. You need domains-specific expertise in the form of health models, deployment/configuration scripts and/or descriptors, configuration validation, role management etc. Thus my questions about what else (beyond CIM over WS-Management) Microsoft is bringing to the table. SML and CML are supposed to address this space, but I didn’t hear them mentioned once in the MMS coverage.

[UPDATED on 2008/5/7: Another perspective on Microsoft and open source: Microsoft Ex-Pats Developing Open Source Software Outside of Redmond]

[UPDATED 2008/5/7: I got an answer to the question about System Center support for CIM-XML: it doesn’t have it. So indeed it’s either WS-Management of WMI. If you’re a Linux box, that means it’s WS-Management.]

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Filed under CA, Everything, HP, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Open source, Oracle, SML, Standards, WS-Management, Yahoo

Where will you be when the Semantic Web gets Grid’ed?

I see the tide rising for semantic technologies. On the other hand, I wonder if they don’t need to fail in order to succeed.

Let’s use the Grid effort as an example. By “Grid effort” I mean the work that took place in and around OGF (or GGF as it was known before its merger w/ EGA). That community, mostly made of researchers and academics, was defining “utility computing” and creating related technology (e.g. OGSA, OGSI, GridFTP, JSDL, SAGA as specs, Globus and Platform as implementations) when Amazon was still a bookstore. There was an expectation that, as large-scale, flexible, distributed computing became a more pressing need for the industry at large, the Grid vision and technology would find their way into the broader market. That’s probably why IBM (and to a lesser extent HP) invested in the effort. Instead, what we are seeing is a new approach to utility computing (marketed as “cloud computing”), delivered by Amazon and others. It addresses utility computing with a different technology than Grid. With X86 virtualization as a catalyst, “cloud computing” delivers flexible, large-scale computing capabilities in a way that, to the users, looks a lot like their current environment. They still have servers with operating systems and applications on them. It’s not as elegant and optimized as service factories, service references (GSR), service handle (GSH), etc but it maps a lot better to administrators’ skills and tools (and to running the current code unchanged). Incremental changes with quick ROI beat paradigm shifts 9 times out of 10.

Is this indicative of what is going to happen with semantic technologies? Let’s break it down chronologically:

  1. Trailblazers (often faced with larger/harder problems than the rest of us) come up with a vision and a different way to think about what computers can do (e.g. the “computers -> compute grid” transition).
  2. They develop innovative technology, with a strong theoretical underpinning (OGSA-BES and those listed above).
  3. There are some successful deployments, but the adoption is mostly limited to a few niches. It is seen as too complex and too different from current practices for broad adoption.
  4. Outsiders use incremental technology to deliver 80% of the vision with 20% of the complexity. Hype and adoption ensue.

If we are lucky, the end result will look more like the nicely abstracted utility computing vision than the “did you patch your EC2 Xen images today” cloud computing landscape. But that’s a necessary step that Grid computing failed to leapfrog.

Semantic web technologies can easily be mapped to the first three bullets. Replace “computers -> computer grid” with “documents/data -> information” in the first one. Fill in RDF, RDFS, OWL (with all its flavors), SPARQL etc as counterparts to OGSA-BES and friends in the second. For the third, consider life sciences and defense as niche markets in which semantic technologies are seeing practical adoption. What form will bullet #4 take for semantic technology (e.g. who is going to be the EC2 of semantic technology)? Or is this where it diverges from Grid and instead gets adopted in its “original” form?

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Filed under Everything, Grid, HP, IBM, RDF, Research, Semantic tech, Specs, Standards, Tech, Utility computing, Virtualization


Our esteemed competitors at IBM Tivoli are organizing a BarCamp focused on the use of ITM for BSM. Should be very interesting if they manage to convince a good group that this is a valuable way to spend a weekend. BSM on Tivoli seems like an ambitious topic for a “getting your hands dirty” kind of session since by definition BSM involves managing complex systems and solving the needs of the kind of people who don’t necessarily attend BarCamps. Very different from the more typical BarCamp environment in which people bring code (typically open source) they know in and out and try to get these projects to do things that they themselves plan to make use of.

Just setting up a realistic (even if fake) environment to get your “hands dirty” on can take a lot of time. Long downloads and complex installation procedures aren’t your friends when you only have a few hours (and when participants don’t have to stay in the room if they’re bored). It will be an interesting challenge for the organizers to decide how much (if anything at all) to prepare ahead of time while keeping the whole thing open and participant-driven.

My guess is that even if they don’t get a lot in terms of BSM insight per se, they will learn a lot about the ease of installation, integration and extension of the various products involved and how to increase it, which will be beneficial all the same. Good luck to Doug, John and the other participants, I think you’ll do well and I hope you’ll achieve even more than I predict. Kudos for the initiative.

Of course the real challenge only starts after the BarCamp: it is to take the lessons back to the mothership…

And for those who say I only speak critically of IBM on this blog, this post is the proof that you are as prejudiced as a WebSphere architect. ;-)

[UPDATED on 2008/01/17: Make sure to read John’s clarifications in the comments section, including the link to BarCampESM which is happening this coming weekend in Austin. I hadn’t heard about it before.]


Filed under BarCamp, BSM, Everything, IBM